These days, the conversation around Matt Ryan starts with his
age (37), his declining skills, and his sagging stat line. But
I donít think anyone can reasonably argue that Ryan was
playing with anything resembling a stacked deck in Atlanta last
year. He played behind an o-line that has allowed Ryan to be sacked
123 times over his last three seasons (42 in 2018, 41 in 2020,
and 40 in 2021 Ė three of the four worst totals of his career).
He was playing with a converted WR/KR at RB, and a receiving corps
that lost Julio Jones to free agency and missed the real Calvin
Ridley for most of the season. That left him throwing to a group
led by an inconsistent Russell Gage, who is not a true WR1, and
TE Kyle Pitts, a talented pass catcher, but a rookie nonetheless.
Despite the perception that he has lost a little something off
his game, he still ranked in the top 10 among NFL quarterbacks
in completions, and just outside the top 10 in attempts and passing
yards. He gets banged for his lack of mobility, and yes he was
19th in touchdown passes and 18th in yards per attempt (just five
spots behind Patrick Mahomes, incidentally), but given the supporting
cast, I think some of that can be forgiven. I mean, at 36, do
we really expect him to still carry a team? Tom Brady is the exception,
not the rule!
So now he steps into a run-first offense under QB whisperer Frank
Reich that will accentuate his abilities as a play-action passer,
slow the pass rush behind an offensive line light years ahead
of where the Falcons group was, and give him opportunities to
throw to a true WR1 in Michael Pittman Jr. Heíll have Parris Campbell
in the slot, and exciting rookie Alec Pierce, as well as TE Mo
Allie-Cox, who has flashed as a receiver who can challenge the
seam, a bread and butter route for a guy like Ryan who has made
a career throwing to guys like Pitts, Tony Gonzalez, and Austin
Hooper among others. Oh yeah, and RBís Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim
Hines each had 40 receptions in 2021 (top 25 at their position
in the NFL).
I realize Iím seriously in the minority here, but while
most fantasy experts will call Ryan a low-end QB2, I think he
could be looking at something closer to low-end QB1. Heís
in a great spot, in an offense that will play to his strengths,
with a supporting cast that will allow him to do what he does
without putting too much on his plate.
Foles has been living off his magical postseason run to Super
Bowl LII MVP honors since 2018, and truth be told, he hasnít lived
up to the hype. But he makes sense as a handcuff to Ryan if you
decide to make that jump. Itís worth noting that Foles had a passer
rating of 115.7 with 971 yards, 6 touchdowns and one interception
in three games during that postseason runÖwith Frank Reich as
his OC. Foles can step in and run this offense as efficiently
as anyone should he need to.
Taylor has put himself squarely in the middle of the No.1 overall
pick discussion in all leagues and all formats. His stellar 2021
campaign dwarfed his already impressive rookie numbers of a year
earlier. Last year he led the NFL in rushing with 1811 yards,
which came on a league-high 332 carries for a 5.5-yard average
and 18 touchdowns. He posted ten 100-yard rushing games, averaging
106.5 ground yards per game, and if that wasnít enough,
he added 40 catches for 360 yards and two more scores.
He's a legitimate dual threat back who can break tackles, but
still possesses the speed to gain the edge on outside zone runs.
While opposing defenses are sure to stack the box against this
run-first attack, having Matt Ryan in the backfield with him will
be much more of a benefit than Carson Wentz was. Teams will likely
make Ryan prove he can still make all the throws early on. But
with his accuracy and an improved receiving corps in an offense
that fits his skill set, defenses will be forced to honor his
passing ability, which will keep things honest for Taylor.
Nyheim Hines may return to a bigger receiving role this year,
but Taylor will still be part of the aerial attack, will still
be a prime red zone threat, and in my opinion, is poised to obliterate
the 2,000-yard rushing mark. If you have the No.1 pick in your
draft, run, donít walk, to get the card in.
After ranking third amongst all RBís in receptions in 2020,
Hines took a step back last season. Part of that is due to the
emergence of Jonathan Taylor, not only as a runner, but as a receiver.
It also had something to do with the man at QB. Carson Wentz tended
to force throws downfield and has never made good use of his check
down options in the passing game. But things change a bit with
Matt Ryan at the helm. Last year in Atlanta, RBís accounted
for nearly 25% of the target share with Ryan at QB. Some of that
was a product of playing behind a suspect o-line and a system
of play calls that focused on getting the ball out of Ryanís
hands quickly. But throughout his career, he has been a smart
passer who gets through his progressions and finds the open man.
All this is to say that Hines may have a chance to bounce back
in the stat column. I wouldnít be surprised to see some
21 personnel groupings that will feature Taylor and Hines on the
field together, using their versatility to challenge opposing
While Taylor is clearly the RB1, Hines is a borderline RB3, especially
in PPR leagues. Indy is going to run the ball, but they will throw
off play action, and Ryanís propensity for throwing to his
backs should make Hines a viable weapon once again.
Pittman emerged as the Colts clear WR1 in 2021 with a team-high
129 targets and the first 1,000-yard season of his young career.
Unfortunately, his production dipped with the struggles of QB
Carson Wentz the second half of the season, which included an
8-game scoreless streak for the receiver. Despite that, he had
at least 50 yards in 12 of 17 games.
He is a big target at 6í4Ē with a huge catch radius,
which should make him a prime threat in the red zone. He also
has sub-4.5 speed, and his ability to align anywhere on the field
allows him to take the top off a defense. Heís also an excellent
route runner who knows how to get open.
I donít want to overstate the QB situation last year with
Wentz, or this year with Ryan. A lot remains to be seen. But itís
hard not to envision a big jump from Pittman this season with
the upgrade at QB. Heís a high end WR2 with a high ceiling
in my rankings.
A former high school track star, Campbell has game-changing speed
and huge run after catch potential. He simply has a gear even
most NFL defenders donít possess. The problem is he hasnít
been able to stay on the field. Injuries have limited him to just
15 games over the last three seasons. With that being said, the
Colts are fairly thin in terms of veteran receiving talent and
they havenít signed anyone else to the roster, even with
guys like T.Y. Hilton, Julio Jones and Will Fuller still on the
street, which could mean the Colts think Campbell has the ability
to take over the slot receiver role in this offenseÖIF he
can stay healthy.
It's June, but he is currently healthy, and by all accounts,
catching everything Matt Ryan is throwing his way. The two seem
to be building some chemistry, and Campbell could be a dangerous
weapon across the short middle of the field as a catch and run
threat. You canít draft him at this point, but he is certainly
worth a spot on your watch list while he finds his role and the
Colts find out what they look like with Ryan at QB.
Taken with the 53rd pick in the draft, Pierce made a name for
himself in college as a deep threat with 4.4 speed. But heís
also long (6í3Ē with 33Ē arms) with a unique
ability to win contested balls. Heís a guy who will go up
and get it. That has already manifested itself in mini-camp practices
where he has shone early in red zone packages.
The combination of those skills, in conjunction with the Coltsí
general lack of proven depth at WR, is going to give Pierce a
chance to compete for a starting spot, most likely on the perimeter
opposite Michael Pittman Jr. As a rookie, heís a bit of
a boom or bust prospect right now. He hasnít even played
a single practice in pads yet. And even as a starter, heís
looking at being the No.2 or No.3 receiving option in a run-first
attack. But owners should keep an eye on him. He could ed up being
a bye week fill in if heís able to evolve at the next level.
For a 6í-5Ē, 265-lb man, Alie-Cox is extremely athletic,
and he has flashed with some big plays when given the chance,
averaging at least 12.5 yards per catch in three of his four seasons.
But the chances havenít come very often, or as often as
some fantasy owners would like. He had just 24 catches and four
touchdowns in 2021. With fellow TE Jack Doyle retiring and QB
Matt Ryan, a TE-friendly passer throughout his career, landing
in Indy, Alie-Cox could emerge as a low-end TE2. I think heís
just another wait and see guy in this Colts offense.
Eleven catches for 106 yards in 17 games was not the 2021 season
Granson or Colts fans had anticipated. Heís a talented receiving
TE. The Colts ran 12 personnel (1 RB, 2 TE) on nearly a quarter
of their offensive snaps in í21, so many people are expecting
more of the same this year. Iím not so sure. I donít
know that the personnel on their roster plays to that. If they
do stay true to form, Granson has a chance at a very limited fantasy
role, but heís more likely going to have to be a blocker
in the run game first, if heís going to play.
Woods is a big (6’-7”, 253 lbs), powerfully explosive
rookie who crushed it at the combine after turning in a career
year as a 5th-year player at UVA. His best traits would seem to
translate to a role as a red zone target. He’s at his best
working in short areas. It remains to be seen whether there’s
a role for him there on this team. RB Jonathan Tylor had 20 total
TD’s last season, Michael Pittman Jr. is a red zone threat,
as is Mo Alie-Cox. It’s not likely that Woods breaks into
that group in a meaningful way this season.